The pop culture renaissance of the late 1950s and 1960s was really all about the struggle between deep-rooted conservatism and the new liberal values of the post-war, post-welfare state generation, and Bryan Forbes’ follow-up to Whistle Down the Wind, an adaptation of Lynne Reid Banks’ debut novel, places this battle at front and centre – and rather fudges the issue of which should prevail. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating depiction of London at the turn of the 1960s, just before The Beatles arrived to turn the country on its head, and well worth a revisit in this glorious 4k restoration – which cleans the picture up nicely without washing out its natural grain.
Leslie Caron is Jane Fosset, a 27-year-old single French woman looking for a cheap, no-questions-asked sort of place to live in Notting Hill. Eventually she settles on the boarding house of Pat Phoenix, settling into an l-shaped attic room next to young black jazz trumpeter Johnny (Peters) and upstairs from a variety of characters she and we will soon come to know and love. Elsewhere in the house we meet Mavis (Courtneidge), an aging music hall star whose glory days are all behind her, and Toby (Bell), as aspiring writer with whom Jane begins a love affair. The narrative then struggles between maintaining its free-thinking sensibilities and telling a more orthodox kind of story, and it’s the gender divide wherein this tension lies; it seems the women of the middle twentieth century are much more progressive in embracing their freedoms, both in their own lives and in their understanding of Jane’s, than the men.
This is a story about faded glamour, dashed hopes and – you guessed it – hearts of gold. If there’s a problem with the film, it’s only that by comparison with the rest of the New Wave, both home and abroad, its depiction of the seedier side of life, the city’s less glamorous underbelly, is rather tame. There’s little sense of threat, particularly towards the single woman’s decisions concerning her impending motherhood, and the film touches upon but fails to really explore the limits of her options.
Neither is The L-Shaped Room quite as liberal in its techniques as some of its contemporaries, possessing fewer jump-cuts and oblique angles than the likes of À Bout de Souffle; again it can’t quite seem to come to terms with its own content, much as Jane struggles throughout with hers. In the end it’s the acting that carries the day; there isn’t a single performance that isn’t sublime and suffused with compassion, and the final act is heart-breaking.
This is however a terrific set celebrating a fifty-odd-year-old film, that despite its minor issues still raises questions that are relevant even today.
Special Features: Interviews: Leslie Caron and Lynne Reid Banks / The L-Shaped Room and the British New Wave featurette / Stills gallery
THE L-SHAPED ROOM / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: BRYAN FORBES / SCREENPLAY: BRYAN FORBES / STARRING: LESLIE CARON, TOM BELL, BROCK PETERS, CICELY COURTNEIDGE, BERNARD LEE, PATRICIA PHOENIX / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW